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Sprained ankle - Symptoms, Causes, Types and Treatment

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

An ankle sprain is a common injury that occurs when the ligaments in the ankle are stretched or torn. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bones together and provide support to the joints. When the ankle is twisted or turned beyond its normal range of motion, the ligaments can become overstretched or tear, resulting in an ankle sprain.


Ankle sprains can range in severity from mild to severe, and can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the ankle joint. In some cases, ankle sprains can also affect the stability of the ankle joint, making it difficult to walk or put weight on the affected ankle.


Treatment for ankle sprains typically involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation (also known as RICE). In more severe cases, medical attention may be required, including the use of crutches, a brace, physical therapy, or even surgery. With proper treatment and rehabilitation, most ankle sprains can heal within a few weeks to a few months.


Grades of ankle sprain

There are three grades of ankle sprains, which are classified based on the severity of the injury:


Grade 1 ankle sprain: A grade 1 sprain is a mild sprain that involves stretching or partial tearing of the ligaments in the ankle. This type of sprain typically causes mild pain, swelling, and stiffness, but does not usually affect the stability of the ankle joint.


Grade 2 ankle sprain: A grade 2 sprain is a moderate sprain that involves partial tearing of the ligaments in the ankle. This type of sprain typically causes moderate pain, swelling, and stiffness, and may affect the stability of the ankle joint.


Grade 3 ankle sprain: A grade 3 sprain is a severe sprain that involves complete tearing of the ligaments in the ankle. This type of sprain typically causes severe pain, swelling, and stiffness, and may result in significant instability of the ankle joint.




How would I know if my ankle is sprained?


An ankle sprain can cause a range of symptoms that can vary in severity depending on the extent of the injury. Here are some common signs and symptoms of an ankle sprain:

Pain: Ankle sprains often cause pain around the ankle joint, which can range from mild to severe.

Swelling: Swelling is a common symptom of an ankle sprain and can occur immediately after the injury or develop over time.

Bruising: Bruising around the ankle joint is also common with an ankle sprain, especially if the injury is more severe.

Difficulty walking: Depending on the severity of the sprain, walking may be difficult or painful.

Stiffness: Ankle sprains can cause stiffness and limited range of motion in the ankle joint.

Instability: A more severe ankle sprain can cause instability in the ankle joint, making it feel wobbly or weak.


If you have any of these symptoms after a twisting or rolling injury to the ankle, it is possible that you have an ankle sprain. It is important to seek medical attention if you have severe pain, swelling, or difficulty putting weight on the affected ankle, as these may be signs of a more serious injury such as a fracture.


What are the common causes of ankle sprain?


An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments that connect the bones of the ankle joint are stretched or torn. This can happen due to a sudden twisting or rolling motion of the ankle, which can cause the foot to turn inward or outward. Some common causes of ankle sprains include:

Sports Injuries: Ankle sprains are common in sports that involve jumping, running, and sudden changes in direction, such as basketball, soccer, and tennis.

Falls: Ankle sprains can also occur due to falls, particularly when landing on an uneven surface or twisting the ankle during the fall.

Uneven Surfaces: Walking or running on uneven surfaces, such as rocky or bumpy terrain, can also increase the risk of ankle sprains.

Improper Footwear: Wearing shoes that do not provide adequate support or do not fit properly can increase the risk of ankle sprains.

Weak Ankles: People with weak ankles or a history of ankle sprains may be more susceptible to future ankle sprains.

Genetic Factors: Some people may have naturally looser ligaments or a predisposition to ankle sprains due to genetic factors.


What would help for the sprained ankle to heal faster?


There are several things that can help a sprained ankle to heal faster. Here are some tips:


Rest: It is important to rest the affected ankle as much as possible in the first few days after the injury to allow the tissues to heal.


Ice: Applying ice to the ankle for 20-30 minutes at a time, several times a day can help to reduce pain and swelling.


Compression: Using an elastic bandage or compression wrap can help to reduce swelling and provide support to the ankle.


Elevation: Elevating the affected ankle above the level of the heart can help to reduce swelling and improve circulation.


Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help to reduce pain and inflammation.


Rehabilitation exercises: Once the swelling and pain have improved, gentle range-of-motion and strengthening exercises can help to improve ankle mobility and prevent re-injury.


Medical attention: In more severe cases, a healthcare provider may recommend immobilization with a brace or cast, physical therapy, or in rare cases, surgery.


Ankle rehabilitation programs based on recent research studies after ankle sprains:

Range of motion exercises: A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that range of motion exercises were effective at improving ankle joint mobility after an ankle sprain. The study also found that early initiation of range of motion exercises was associated with better outcomes.


Strengthening exercises: A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that strengthening exercises were effective at improving ankle function and reducing the risk of recurrent ankle sprains. The study recommended incorporating calf muscle strengthening exercises into ankle rehabilitation programs.


Balance exercises: A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that balance training was effective at improving ankle proprioception and reducing the risk of recurrent ankle sprains. The study recommended incorporating balance exercises into ankle rehabilitation programs.


Plyometric exercises: A randomized controlled trial published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that plyometric exercises were effective at improving ankle joint stability and reducing the risk of recurrent ankle sprains. The study recommended incorporating plyometric exercises into ankle rehabilitation programs.


Functional exercises: A systematic review published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that functional exercises were effective at improving ankle function and reducing the risk of recurrent ankle sprains. The study recommended incorporating functional exercises that mimic daily activities into ankle rehabilitation programs.


Overall, these studies support the use of a comprehensive ankle rehabilitation program that includes a combination of range of motion exercises, strengthening exercises, balance exercises, plyometric exercises, and functional exercises to improve ankle function and reduce the risk of recurrent ankle sprains. It is important to note that the specific exercises and progressions used should be individualized based on the patient's specific needs and guided by a qualified healthcare professional.


5 best exercises after ankle sprain


Calf Raises: This exercise involves standing with the feet shoulder-width apart and slowly raising the heels off the ground, then lowering them back down. This exercise strengthens the calf muscles, which help to stabilize the ankle joint.


Single-Leg Balance: This exercise involves standing on one leg and holding the position for 30-60 seconds, then switching to the other leg. This exercise improves ankle proprioception and balance, which can help to prevent future ankle sprains.


Ankle Inversion and Eversion: These exercises involve using a resistance band or ankle weight to perform controlled movements of the ankle joint, focusing on inversion (turning the ankle inward) and eversion (turning the ankle outward). These exercises strengthen the muscles that support the ankle joint.


Heel-to-Toe Walks: This exercise involves walking on the heels of the feet, then walking on the balls of the feet, and finally walking normally. This exercise improves ankle proprioception and balance.


Jumping and Landing Exercises: These exercises involve jumping off of a box or step and landing on both feet, then jumping and landing on one foot. These exercises improve ankle strength and stability and help to prepare the ankle for higher impact activities.


It is important to note that the specific exercises and progressions used should be individualized based on the patient's specific needs and guided by a qualified healthcare professional.


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